Mostly a summer book report (a few months late)

With less than two months left in the year, I’m taking an accounting and falling short on some of my goals (all of my goals? let’s not be too harsh).

Like my goal to read 26 books this year.

Last year, I barely managed to read 52 books. It became like work to power through some of those clunkers so I scaled back to a much more manageable 26 — one book every other week. Despite being doable, according to Goodreads, I’m three books behind schedule.

Hmm. Too much electronic Scrabble.

magnoliaThe thing is, I can read a book I love in three days. Like The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines and Mark Dagostino, which I read immediately on my Kindle when it was released.

Not an HGTV fan? OK, you can have a pass. But if you watch HGTV or enjoy a feel-good story about a couple who seems authentically likeable, then you’d like The Magnolia Story, too. It’s a memoir, so I reviewed it in full on my author blog earlier this week.

stone-lakeOne way I added to my book total was by reading the Star Tribune’s serialized novel over the summer. It’s pretty easy to read a half chapter every day between the advice columns and the comics. But Stone Lake by Richard Horberg is, well, not so great. It’s the story of a young teacher in 1949 making some discoveries about life and himself during his first year on the job. It’s set in northern Minnesota (so the descriptions of winter are excellent), but the story kind of goes nowhere. I learned later that it’s Horberg’s first novel and it’s semi-autobiographical, so the 89-year-old gets kudos for that.

I also devoured a couple of semi-controversial books over the summer because I’m like that: I like to determine for myself if a book is good (or bad).

I liked both Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Alexander Eben and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Both Eben and Levitt have critics in their professional circles and have been accused of selling out, but I still appreciated the way their books built their arguments and told their stories.

As you can tell from the title, Eben makes an argument for the existence of an afterlife. What person of faith can dislike this? Let’s just say scientists aren’t real thrilled with Eben’s “proof” but I found him compelling. And Levitt, through journalist Stephen J. Dubner, encourages readers to look at widelyheld beliefs in a new way. For example, how much can you trust standardized testing and why did violent crime rates go down in the 90s? Levitt’s answers suggest some teachers cheat and legalized abortion reduced the pool of criminals. Controversial conclusions, yes, but Freakonomics propels these types of arguments in a compelling way.

simpsonYou want compelling? Check out The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. This book convinced me I need to read more works by Toobin. Wow! I seized on it when my sister-in-law passed along her copy because a) I was a news-obsessed newspaper copy editor in the early ’90s (when Simpson killed his ex-wife and was unsuccessfully tried for the murder) and b) I loved FX’s first season of “American Crime Story,” which used Toobin’s book as source material. Absolutely worth reading.

hedgehogI was able to digest all these books pretty quickly, but I also read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery over the summer; it’s a novel few would describe as light reading. It’s more like a treatise on the meaning of life. Set in Paris, it tells the story of an introverted concierge and a preternatural 12-year-old girl who lives in the same building. Amid a beautiful and heartbreaking story, it addresses questions of class, culture and friendship. It’s a thinker.

I’ve got eight books to read by the end of the year in order to achieve my goal. Life is kind of crazy right now, but I’m going to give it my best.

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